Fire Safety

The University of Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Staff has an extensive professional and academic background in fire protection, fire prevention, safety, code management, fire investigation, building inspections, fire suppression, hazardous materials, and training.

The Fire and Emergency Services Department ensures a safe operational environment at the University for the students, faculty, and staff along with the protection of University property by providing a contemporary fire and safety program that is continuously reviewed, updated and coordinated with students, employees, and contractors at the University. This concerted safety effort is a shared responsibility that addresses quality of life issues for the entire Penn community.

To learn more about the Division of Public Safety Fire and Emergency Services, please visit the Fire and Emergency Services website.

The University of Pennsylvania provides multiple methods of fire protection in all its residential buildings:

  • “State of the Art” Quick Response Sprinkler Systems – Each room and common space in the residential system is equipped with a heat-sensitive sprinkler that is designed to go off in the event of a fire.  Sprinklers are engaged when heat or contact causes the glass vial in them to break, so residents are also advised to avoid hanging clothes on sprinklers or playing hall sports that could lead to a sprinkler being hit.
  • Fire Alarm Systems – All common spaces (Halls, Lounges, etc.) in the residential buildings have sensors linked to the Building-Wide Fire Alarm System.  The Building-Wide Fire Alarm system sounds when smoke or heat reaches the sensors in the common spaces or if the sprinklers are engaged as above.  When the Building-Wide Fire Alarm System is engaged, residents must evacuate their rooms and the common space in the building in accordance with the building evacuation plan.
  • In-Room Smoke Detectors – All student rooms are equipped with smoke detectors that only sound locally.  These smoke detectors are activated by smoke, steam, or other “smoke-like” substances in the air.  The in-room smoke detectors do not sound the main alarms for the building, so residents suffering from minor cooking disasters should avoid opening the room door to the hallway when clearing smoke from their rooms.  It’s suggested that residents open windows instead in these instances.
  • Fire Extinguishers – For reasons of code compliance, the University provides Fire Extinguishers in stations in the common hallways of most residential buildings.  It is not recommended that residents try to put out fires on their own, but in the event of a situation of last resort, residents can pull the pin on the extinguishers, direct the nozzle towards the base of the fire, and engage the handle to activate the fire extinguisher.  The resident should then move the nozzle back and forth to cover as much of the fire as possible with the contents of the fire extinguisher.

  • Practice situational awareness.  Be aware of the nearest emergency exit stairwell. This often is NOT the route you normally take when entering and exiting the building through the main entrance.
    • In the high rise buildings (Harnwell, Harrison, Rodin) and Gutmann College House, the stairwells are fire-safe areas, and individuals occupying the building when the evacuation alarm sounds can remain in the stairwells during an evacuation alarm, unless told otherwise by university staff or emergency personnel.
    • In the low rise buildings (Class of 1925, Du Bois, English House, Hill, Kings Court, Lauder, Mayer, the Quad, Stouffer, Van Pelt) and Radian, individuals occupying the building when the evacuation alarm sounds will need to exit the building.
  • Be familiar with at least TWO evacuation routes from your location in the building.
  • If the building that you are occupying during the time of an evacuation alarm has an elevator, please be aware that the elevators often shift into “fire safety mode” during an evacuation alarm, rendering them unusable by all others except emergency personnel, and as a result, it is recommended that use of the elevators NOT be included in your evacuation route.
  • Know the buildings’ areas of refuge. This can be found in each building’s emergency preparedness bulletin usually posted in elevators or in the lobby. It can also be found on Public Safety’s website:
  • Have your PennCard and any keys that you would need ready to grab in an emergency, as well as medications and clothing appropriate for the weather.
  • NEVER ignore an evacuation alarm, as you can never assume that it is a false alarm.


If you notice fire or smoke:

  • Notify occupants - roommates, neighbors, staff - and help anyone needing assistance in the immediate area as you make your way to safety.
  • To confine fire and smoke, close doors as you exit to the nearest stairwell.
  • If evacuation alarms are not already activated, activate the alarms by using the nearest pull station. These are located at all emergency exits leading into the stairwells.
  • Evacuate to the nearest emergency exit stairwell using the procedures outlined in the Evacuation Procedures section.
  • Once you are safely in the stairwell, call the Department of Public Safety on their emergency line, 215-573-3333, to report the fire.
  • Notify Public Safety or emergency personnel of any information you may have concerning the fire or individuals needing assistance.

An important component of Penn’s Public Safety Delivery System is the conducting of reality based emergency evacuation procedures. Emergency exit drills are required by the Philadelphia Fire Prevention Code and are held in all residences twice a semester. These drills are supervised by the professional staff of the Department of Fire and Occupational Safety and include alarm activation to ensure fire protection and reliability, along with an orderly, disciplined evacuation, followed by a thorough inspection of the building to immediately rectify any code related issues. Finally, an on-site discussion is held with students to evaluate and improve, when necessary, the performance of the fire drills.

  • Take needed personal belongings (e.g. PennID, keys, medication). Dress appropriately for the weather in all low-rise buildings (Class of 1925, Du Bois, English House, Hill, Kings Court, Lauder, Mayer, the Quad, Stouffer, Van Pelt) and Radian, since a full building evacuation is a necessary step during an evacuation alarm, and in the high rises (Harnwell, Harrison, Rodin, Gutmann College House), in case a full building evacuation becomes necessary.
  • Leave the room that you are occupying at the time and evacuate to the safest and nearest emergency exit stairwell.
  • Do NOT use elevators.
  • Make sure doors are shut behind you as you move to the stairwell in order to slow the spread of fire and smoke.
  • If you are in a high-rise building (Harnwell, Harrison, Rodin) or Gutmann, when an evacuation alarm sounds, you should go to the nearest emergency exit stairwell and you may remain in the fire-safe stairwells until the alarm is silenced.
    • Should emergency personnel request a full building evacuation, requiring individuals to exit the building, an announcement will be made over the intercom system.
    • You may choose to exit the building at any time during an alarm.
    • If you exit the building, do so through the emergency exits at the bottom of the stairwells.
  • If you are in a low-rise building (Class of 1925, Du Bois, English House, Hill, Kings Court, Lauder, Mayer, the Quad, Stouffer, Van Pelt) or Radian when an evacuation alarm sounds, you should exit the building using the safest and nearest emergency exit and proceed to the building’s area of refuge.
  • Upon exiting the building during an evacuation alarm, move away from the building and go to the building’s area of refuge in order to be accounted for by emergency personnel.
  • Follow all directions given by emergency responders and university staff.
  • Do not return to your room or reenter the building until university staff give the ok, the alarm is silenced, and the elevators (if applicable) are reset.

Every year the Department of Fire and Emergency Services inspect all buildings to ensure that the University’s buildings and its fire protection systems are operating at a high level of safety and readiness. These inspections are complemented by twice yearly Residential Services Health and Safety inspections.

Immediately prior to New Students arriving on campus Residence Advisors (RA) and Graduate Residence Advisors (GRA) attend workshops and receive comprehensive fire safety training, which they in turn provide to the new students. Additionally, first year students are required to attend safety and security programs during New Student Orientation, which take place on Labor Day Weekend each year. Fire Safety is an integral part of our overall safety program. Subjects that are covered include: emergency exit drills, overview of the University’s fire protection systems, how to report an emergency and how to conduct yourself during an emergency. Students are also educated regarding the consequences of tampering with fire protection equipment along with engaging of false alarms. Information is provided about the prohibition of fire works, candles and portable heaters.

Fire safety is one of the most important behaviors for individuals to practice. A real residential space fire can cause personal injury and loss and damage to property in seconds. You can prepare through good fire safety practices. Since emergencies can occur at any time, when you are in your own building or in another building, such as when you collect mail or packages for example or are dining in another building, it is important to be familiar with not only your residential building’s evacuation procedures but also the evacuation procedures of the buildings that you may be visiting.

  • Never leave cooking food on the stove or in the microwave unattended.
  • Do not use fire or smoke producing items within the residences. These items are prohibited.
  • Do not store or place anything that can catch on fire on the stove or in the oven.
  • Do not cover smoke detectors or sprinkler heads.
  • Do not hang material of any kind from sprinkler heads, sprinkler pipes, or smoke detectors.
  • Do not prop open fire doors.